Building a future with Diversity and Non-Traditional Programs


Building a Future with Diversity and Non-Traditional Programs
By Steve Smith, Director, Colorado Correctional Industries

For the past two years Colorado Correctional Industries (CCi) has endured the effects of a nationwide recession trickling down to our own state. Too often the phrases “reduce your costs,” “lower your inventories,” “there’s a hiring freeze,” and “do more with less” have been ringing through the ears of our program managers and staff. While I do not want to paint the past two years as negative, they have been stressful upon our organization, employees, offenders and our customers.

There has also been a silver lining during these days that seemed so gloomy. We began to evaluate our challenges as an opportunity to prepare for a more diverse future. If CCi was going to endure this recession and survive, we probably would have to become more non-traditional in our business ventures.

One of the many goats CCi tends

What are traditional industries opposed to non-traditional industries? Can we diversify our industry programs and not only survive the recessionary time, but continue to hold strong afterwards? I asked myself these questions and then presented them to my managers and staff. The ideas and answers varied, but the creative efforts to think outside the box in answering those questions have provided CCi with new programs we believe offer us a more prosperous future.

The majority of correctional industry programs across the country involve the manufacture of license plates, furniture, seating, garments and printing services. CCi is no different as we also have a large customer base that we provide these products and services to, yet we are seeking more non-traditional products and services we believe can open the doors to long-term relationships with private partners. One of the overwhelming responses that continued to be given from my questions above was to develop joint ventures or partnerships with private companies. It’s an opportunity for established companies who face such hardships like the lack of reliable employees, overseas competition and, at times, adequate building facilities to partner with CCi and continue their business while providing opportunities for Colorado offenders.

Female offenders in the agricultural services program

We believe that future correctional industry stability will rely heavily upon joint venture partnerships. I encourage you to educate your prospective partners and your customers on the benefits of offender-provided products and services and entice your customers to “buy American made.” When the job is done correctly, you have won the bragging rights to state proudly “Made in the USA.”

Another answer that I heard repeatedly was to diversify. Diversification can compliment the joint venture partnerships you establish or can help you provide a product or service so unique to the market that you have the opportunity for an exclusive, but captured customer base. Our most diverse and expanding programs are within our agriculture division. CCi proposed an agricultural service program that provided local farmers an opportunity to maintain their livelihood, and continues to operate successfully three years later. With the influx of migrant workers to Colorado and our state laws growing in restrictions on their employment, many farmers faced losing their crops, annual income and the possibility of their farms. CCi now provides female offender labor for these local farmers; allowing them an opportunity to continue their means of support and retain farms that have been within their families for generations. You will also find within the flatlands of Colorado that we are raising and processing freshwater, natural fed Trout and Tilapia fish. What appeared might be experimental, is now an ever-expanding program.

A spin off from the Trout and Tilapia fish program … no pun intended … is our fly tying and handmade fishing rod shop. Avid sportsmen can custom design their own fishing rod from our Web site.

Another agricultural program boasts the largest goat herd and dairy in the state, and is being cared for and operated by CCi staff and offenders. What started out as a few dozen goats and the plans to enlarge and sell the milk, exploded into the caring for thousands of goats and the processing of goat milk and goat cheese. These are exclusive markets to target, yet all of these programs have more than doubled in size from their initial operation. When many correctional industries are closing their agricultural doors, CCi is looking for diverse opportunities within this field. Let’s face it, food will always be a mainstay for Americans.

With each new program established, every correctional industry affects more than their current profit and loss statement or their future revenue projections. Partnerships are developed and built that aid the private sector; avoiding closure of a faltering business, purchase of local materials,

A spin off from the Trout and Tilapia fish program … no pun intended … is our fly tying and handmade fishing rod shop.